Sunday, September 20, 2020 | ePaper

Lingua Franca

How A Bengali Learns To Speak

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Amin Rahman :
English is taught in Bangladesh in schools, colleges and universities at primary, secondary, higher secondary and degree levels. Thus, those who have completed a 4-year bachelor degree get trained in English for about 16 years.  This should be more than sufficient for learning a foreign language for verbal communication purposes.  But unfortunately, this is not happening in Bangladesh today for English.   
It seems that most university students in Bangladesh study English because it is a compulsory subject for their course which they have to study to get their degree.  They   study English not really to acquire speaking skills in this language but just to pass. As a result, the majority of university graduates cannot speak English fluently, and most cannot easily understand English spoken by others. This is true even of graduates from Dhaka University, the country's oldest and premier seat of learning. This is a serious situation, particularly in today's world of globalization where English serves as a major Lingua Franca.
If students retain this attitude then why make English a compulsory subject? Why make everyone study this language when there is no real learning taking place? Why not make it an elective subject and select only those students to study it at degree level and beyond who either demonstrate a high degree of motivation for learning this language for personal use, or require mastery of English for the profession they are preparing for, e.g. . (a) teaching English (b) working for the news media, (c) working in the tourism industry, (d) becoming a specialist professional who has  to interact constantly with non-Bengalis (e) working in the foreign services of Bangladesh (e) working on international assignments with international agencies and NGOs etc After first acquainting such students with General English in schools they may be taught what is known as 'English for Specific Purposes' (ESP) e.g. special English for the medical professionals, English for aviation professionals, English for engineers or for engineers in specific professions like mining etc. .
However, until the national education policy makers or the educational institutes and authorities in the country address this serious problem, it will be up to individuals to find ways to improve their spoken English.  That is not a very easy task at all.  Quite often people, who need to demonstrate that they have reached a certain level in English for real communication purposes, take a three-month or longer course in English run by national and international organizations including the ubiquitous British Council.  One hopes that these organizations can teach Bangladeshis in very short period of time, what they could not learn in 16 years or more in formal education programs.  Then at least those who can afford to attend these courses can learn to verbally communicate in English.
I will not go into further discussion on the pros and cons of teaching English to all in Bangladesh or the responsibilities of the different teaching institutions and English teachers of Bangladesh.  That is not the aim of this article.   The purpose of this article is to share with the readers my personal experience of how and when I learned and started speaking English.  Very recently, purely by chance, I discovered about the technique I had employed, quite unconsciously, to learn spoken English.  Since making this 'great discovery" I have passed on this easy technique to others wishing to improve their speaking and listening skills in English.  All these learners have two things in common, i.e. they all want to learn English to verbally communicate in English, and none of them has the means to attend an expensive English course.   
Before I narrate my story, I must make it clear to all readers that this is not the only technique for learning Spoken English.  I also do not claim this to be the best technique.  It is simply one that I used from which I benefited personally.  Also, others who follow this technique, which include people who did not complete high school, can speak English fluently now.  
A holiday cum work in Ghorashal in Bangladesh
In October 2012, we spent a family holiday in Ghorashal in Bangladesh and stayed in the wonderful guest house of the Janata Jute Mills in Ghorashal, courtesy our friend, Rowshan Bhabi, one of the three partners of the Mills.  During my stay there I had the opportunity of teaching English Pronunciation to about 50 senior students and English Teachers of Janata Jute Mills Bidyapith, which was a five-minute walk from the guest house. Also attending this course was Obaidur Rahman, Head Teacher of Ghorashal Pilot High School located in a neighbouring village.  On my arrival at Janata Jute Mills I was received by the Manager of the Mill, the school's Head Teacher, the school's English Teacher, and Obaidur Rahman.  Obaidur Rahman told me that in his village he had organized and was managing a youth club called Tarunno.  The club was formed to teach its members English and other skills like using computers.  He requested me to teach the club members Spoken English in the evenings.  The club members comprised high school, undergraduate and post graduate students as well as some technicians and teachers who were working in Ghorashal.  Their age ranged from 16 to 30.  
Starting on a never-ending journey
Learning English this way will require you to be determined and disciplined, particularly at the early stages. Once the sound of the English language gets into your system you will get hooked. You will feel close to this language and enjoy hearing English speech even if you do not understand all the words and phrases, and a time may come when you will start dreaming in English.  That is when your new journey to the vast land of knowledge accessible through this language will start. In this journey you will use English as a vehicle to take you to many new & distant places where you will learn many new things and subjects and meet many interesting people.  This journey is never-ending, but the interesting thing is that your journey will be virtually costless and the vehicle that you acquired will never run out of fuel.
(Amin Rahman, a 1966 BUET graduate, has a working background in Demography, ICT and Management; email at aminrahman43@gmail.com)

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